WINSTON COUNTY - The Winston County Sheriff’s Office has announced that communications on both their hand-held and vehicle radios is being switched over from analog to digital, providing a much clearer means of communication, effective Feb. 28. This action has prompted the same action by a majority of law enforcement across the county.
Winston County has had radios in place to go all digital since 2017, thanks to a $140,000 Homeland Security Grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the switch is now being officially made by the sheriff’s office, authorities said.
In order to communicate with the sheriff’s office in digital, other law enforcement agencies will have to switch over to digital, officials said.
“(The grant) put a walkie-talkie and a mobile unit in every hand and in every vehicle in Winston County for law enforcement,” noted Winston County Emergency Management Director Jimmy Madison.
The grant provided 10 radios capable of digital communications for the sheriff’s office (one hand-held and mobile per unit is counted as one set), as well as two for the Lynn Police Department, three for Arley Police, five for Addison Police, and three for EMA, Madison noted.
The Winston County District Attorney’s Office also received a walkie-talkie as did Alabama Game and Fish, he added.
In 2018, FEMA provided a separate $38,000 providing eight to 10 units with digital capability for the Haleyville Police Department, Madison added.
“Digital will carry further and has better efficiency for the radio frequency spectrum,” Madison said. Radios have the capability of being switched between analog and digital communication, he added.
“It’s an improvement for the county to have all brand new radios replacing 10-year old-plus (analog) walkie-talkies that were existing back in 2017,” Madison pointed out. “It just provides more reliable communication.”
Winston County Sheriff Horace Moore stressed his department would switch from analog to digital effective Feb. 28.
“This has been in the plans for some time now,” Moore stated. “All digital radios are installed in our patrol vehicles and our handheld (radios) are ready to go.
“The number one reason we are switching is the safety of the deputies,” Moore pointed out. “We are switching for better, clearer service than the analog system. We have places in Winston County with no radio or cell phone service. My deputies are in these areas with no service and have to drive a distance even to call if they need back up or need to talk to dispatch.
“It puts deputies and officer safety at greater risk with no service when they are out there like that,”Moore continued. “Switching to digital should eliminate this problem. They will be able to receive radio dispatch anywhere in the county and even at farther distances,” the sheriff pointed out.
Digital communication service is enabled by a signal in which the original information is converted into a string of bits before being transmitted. Is also available at greater distances with far less interference than analog service, officials said.
According to itstillworks.com, areas are switching to digital systems because of clearer sound and greater range of reception.
While law enforcement agencies throughout the county are switching over to digital so they may all communicate together, scanners in residents’ homes or businesses that transmit only analog signals will not be able to pick up the digital communication, Moore stressed. They will have to purchase a digital scanner in order to be able to pick up the communication, with digital models starting at approximately $100.
Digital systems allow channels to be encrypted. Trunked and digital radio transmissions are more expensive than analog scanners, officials stated.
“I regret this, but I feel the deputies and the other officers’ safety is most important,” Moore said. “I want to do all I can to protect them...It’s going to be for the safety of everybody who is involved.”
Winston County law enforcement agencies that are switching over to digital radios effective Feb. 28, also include Lynn, Arley, Addison and Double Springs police departments.
Lynn Police Chief Bryan Kirkpatrick stressed the benefit will be officer safety, especially in areas of the county where reception is not good.
“Digital will eliminate that,” Kirkpatrick said. “It will fall back on officer safety and radio reliability.
“You’ve got to have it out there. Addison and Arley are in the corner (of the county),” Kirkpatrick added. “I’m on the corner at Lynn. The (sheriff’s office), they are all over the county. In those outlying areas, you have got to have good communications because sometimes you are there by yourself and you need to be able to get a hold of somebody.”
“If your radio doesn’t work, then you are stuck,” Kirkpatrick concluded.
Speaking from the east side of the county, Arley Police Chief Jerry Cummings noted the department often has poor radio service, especially around the outskirts of town near Smith Lake.
“I have problems here in Arley. Dispatchers can’t hear me on analog,” Cummings said. “Digital will be a lot safer for all of us out here, all law enforcement in the county that are swapping over because if something happens, the digital side would get out.
“With analog, I can hardly reach Double Springs from Arley,” Cummings pointed out. “Every second counts when you have an emergency situation.”
Addison Police Chief Mitchell Woodard agreed analog radios in his area have created problems for law enforcement in the past.
“We sit down here in a hollow over at Addison,” Woodard said. “If you get over here or down around the lake, service is terrible.”
Digital radios will provide for a much crisper, clearer communication than analog radios, Woodard noted.
“It’s a goal we’ve been working on, trying to get this way for years. We all got Homeland Security Grants a couple of years ago, and we all got the same radios, every department, with hopes of doing it,” Woodard added.
The sheriff’s office, he continued, controls the radio communication frequency, controlling when it can be switched over from analog to digital.
“I’ve been asked several times, do I think it would help to go to digital,” Woodard added. “My standard answer is no, I don’t think it would help. I know it would help.”
For example, using digital, Chief Woodard Eva could communicate clearly with the Winston County courthouse in Double Springs from a town out of the county such as Eva, he explained.
“I know it’s going to make a lot of folks who sit and listen to their (analog) scanners mad because they can’t hear anything now. It’s an officer safety issue,” Woodard noted.
Double Springs Police Chief Kim Miller agreed digital radios are a necessity for law enforcement.
“It will improve communications, especially for agencies that are not right there in town or in Double Springs,” Miller stated.
“When you get outside in Arley and Addison, they have difficulty with a signal that far,” Miller said. “For us, all (digital) is going to do is make it where we can hear them more clearly.
“They need to know what we are doing, and we need to know what they are doing if we need some help,” Miller pointed out.
In times past, law enforcement may have been in areas with good cell phone service, but not good radio communication service, according to Miller.
City of Haleyville’s radios have
The City of Haleyville, which has its own dispatch system for law enforcement separate from the county, also has communication radios that can switc between analog and digital, noted Mayor Ken Sunseri.
“We have the ability to transmit and receive off of digital or analog,” Sunseri pointed out.
“We don’t want to stay on digital all the time because we don’t want to listen to everything on the other side of the county,” Sunseri said.
“We’ll stay on analog for our department. If we need anything, then we’ll go to digital for the county,” he added.
Sunseri noted the city has several “dead” spots where they cannot receive radio signals.
“Switching to digital may resolve part of that,” Sunseri said. “...We don’t know....I don’t want to monitor the sheriff’s department (traffic) all day long on our radios.”
All fire departments within Winston County will remain on analog communication radios, at least for the time being, according to Lt. Erik Gilbreath of the Double Springs Fire Department.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.